Monday, September 26, 2011

To Begin With Vol.I Part 4

The Sage and the School Boy

A lad came by the Fix-it Shop
with another broken toy.
“What is to become of us,"
the old man asked the boy.

What is?” the boy replied,
“we cannot know for sure.
My teacher says what’s truth
for me may not be truth for her.
And 'to become,' she’d say,
means what I want to be
and not, as you’ve suggested,
what God expects of me.
Of us’ the last words of the six,
there at the question’s end,
might mean man's fate is shared
alike with foe and friend.
But since we cannot know
what was or is or is in store,
my teacher says we just exist--
we are and nothing more.
And so, you see, your question
was faulty from the start.
If you had gone to school with me,
you might be just as smart.”

With that the lad took back his toy
and scampered out the door.
“What is to become of us?”
the old man asked once more.
© Copyright -2008 Tom Kapanka
A Sage is a sagacious person, one who knows that the simplest, most penetrating questions of life often prompt the answer man wishes most to ignore. When we talk about education to begin with, we are talking about a learning environment quite the opposite of that reflected by the little boy's confident answers in this poem.

This young lad has adopted a worldview void of scriptural truth in which he believes we cannot know "what is." We merely exist. The teacher he so clearly admires is an existentialist, one who believes truth is not absolute; it is "self determined" within one's own mind. Conflicting and incongruent truths have equal weight--not that it matters, because the meaning of life is meaningless. There is no God, no divine purpose, no plan, We're here; we live; we die... so eat, drink, and be merry. When existentialism gives way to pleasure, we call it hedonism ("If it feels good, do it.")  A good humanistic existentialist or hedonist may add..."Oh, and be nice. Live and let live." But even this advice will not be based in a moral absolute but rather in two pragmatic conclusions: first, being nice tends to make us feel better (and feeling better is almost as important as  "feeling good.") And secondly, "live and let live" reminds existentialists that one's existence should not be cut short by others--everyone is entitled to wander aimlessly around in search of good feelings until they naturally die and go to dust.

Christian education is not just sugar-coated existentialism or hedonism. It is different to begin with, different at its foundation, different at its core, different in perspective. A Christian education teaches all of the essential subjects for life preparation in a context of shared beliefs, including...God is sovereign and man is accountable to Him. All truth is God's truth and the beginning of wisdom is impossible apart from Him. The authority, authenticity, and reliability of the Bible are not enhanced by man's believe nor diminished by his disbelief. 

By being taught from a Christian worldview, students more fully understand the significance of life, the consequences of ideas and actions and each individual’s need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Tom Kapanka
CCS Administrator

Saturday, September 17, 2011

To Begin With

Volume One/ Post three

The year at CCS is off to a great start, and with two very busy weeks behind us, I hope to begin my weekly installments of my "To Begin With" blog. As parents and students begin the rigors and routine of another school year, I thought it might be good to think about the nature of education. At its heart, it is all about becoming, hence the title of this post.


At its day-to-day level, education is a service enterprise—not a production industry. When those involved forget this, they begin to see students as products and the K-12 years as an assembly line: Mix, heat, mold, extrude, pass on down the line. Pause at quality control; check the specs, separate irregularities, send the others down the line. The last month of 12th grade adds a coat of paint, some packaging, and voilĂ ! The product turns its tassel on cue and steps into the world.

But no. Educators are not foremen on an assembly line; they are service providers. As such, the teacher-student relationship is more accurately depicted in a Venn overlap than a line graph. "Life prep" education must intersect with students beyond books and lectures. The Venn crossing points bring texture to subject matter and add context to the character, knowledge, and judgment modeled by educators in and beyond the classroom.

Teachers enter a classroom with "positional authority," which comes with the title, but they must earn "relational influence," which comes with time. These are not mutually exclusive terms.Though the latter is perhaps more endearing, the former should never be abandoned. Exemplary teachers know how to maintain their professional role while fostering appropriate, professional relationships with students. The greater the Venn overlap, the easier it is to maximize each student’s learning style and personal gifts. Such teachers soon elevate process over product, the means over the end , their outpouring into lives over the immediate student outcomes.

While it is true that teachers are influencers and role models for students, if those students are considered merely products, and if the process is only data-driven, and if evaluation therefore focuses only on that which can be objectively measured, then in time, students mistakenly believe that a person’s worth is measured by numbers on a transcript. When, in fact, by the time graduates enter their careers, their potential employers look beyond transcripts in search of employees with integrity, values, good judgment, a teachable spirit, personal responsibility, team approach, strong work ethic, and the ability to do one’s best for a greater good beyond one’s self. Such students will always be in demand because such citizens are the strength of communities and the American work force.

In the 80's educators called it O.B.E.--outcomes-based-education. The intention was not bad, but the scope of outcomes often overlooked the most important aspects of personal development. The student is not a collection of papers, not a string of letters in a grade-book-—he is the person behind the eyes at each desk. The papers and worksheets and letter-grades are means to an end—and not the end itself. Grades merely reflect the more measurable elements of the process. While it is true that measurements help us evaluate that process, those measurements should never be considered the “product” or most important outcome of education.

Tests and measurements are merely an attempt to motivate effort; reward achievement; identify personal strengths and weaknesses, and assess improvement. For college-bound high school students, grades, rank, and GPA provide helpful though imperfect points of reference for colleges, etc., but such data should never be seen as the outcome of education. Perhaps the most important evaluation in a school is regular assessment of the services rendered, the character and virtues modeled, and the exemplary relationships formed.

Grades and GPAs tell only a portion of each student's preparation for life. The truest outcomes of education reveal themselves over time.

Ideally, parents and teachers understand that they, too, are not “finished products.” They are people in an endless formative process. They have “become” teachers and parents, but they are not done “becoming.” They are life-long learners who have not arrived but are further along in the journey, and therefore, better equipped to help students become what they will someday be more clearly becoming. Becoming...becoming. At our best, we are all still “becoming” our best. And it is very becoming of educators when they realize that they and their students are still works in progress.

Or as I once wrote to a very memorable English class back in 1986:

I owe you
not in dollars and cents
(though, in a way, that’s true).
I owe you
I owe you in the sense that
every day every dayevery day
we meet,
and I say, “Listen…”
and at the various levels which you do,
I owe you
for it’s a costly thing
to be paid ATTENTION
a single time more than I’ve earned it.
Open eyes and ears keep book—
and surely after all this time
I owe you
Not just in dollars and in sense,
but in reflections
..........reflections...of Him who created
time and space and you and me
and mixedtheminto… NOW…
which we occupy together.
He holds the true account,
and His grace provides the balance
I owe you….
© Copyright 1986, TK,
Tom Kapanka
CCS Administrator

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The Little Boy"
A Story of Childhood Creativity

Twenty years ago, long before digital cameras and Youtube, a friend of mine in Iowa gave me a copy of simple but powerful piece by Helen Buckley called “The Little Boy.”

It had been published in School Arts Magazine in October 1961, the year I entered kindergarten, but that was thirty years before and even while earning my teaching degree, I had never come across the piece until Kirk gave it to me.  A year later, Kirk's wife Joan was taking a college class on teaching methods and asked  if I would help her film a dramatization of Buckley’s simple story. She had no video equipment, no editing equipment, etc. but she was willing to line up the cast of characters if I would help her shoot, edit, and narrate the film. My daughter Emily (age six at the time, now 26) was in the cast, so how could I refuse?

Joan got an “A” on the project, and the professor used the video in that class for many years--not because my video work was particularly good... but because the lesson is something all teachers should be required to learn early in their careers.

A few days ago, I found the old VHS videotape, and I must say the words hit me as hard as the first time I read them. I’m posting it  in hopes of helping teachers remember the essence of childhood, creativity, and the power of a blank slate.

Most of the children in this short film are now grown with children of their own. I hope they remember the time we spent together making this film, and more importantly...I hope they remember the story as they watch the imaginations and creativity of their children blossom a flower.

It's on summer days I'm most aware of what children are at risk to lose when life is too structured, too dictated from above (or worse yet, for today's youth...played out on a video screen). Three years ago I wrote the following and posted it here at POI.

There Was A Time

There was a time--
was there a time, O my!--
when days dawned blank
and yawning to the sky
we flung the sheets
and sprung from beds
pulled the blankets "made"
and pushed our waking heads
through wadded shirts
yanked off the night before
did up our trousers
running out the door
and leapt barefoot, impetuous,
from porch shade to the sun
arms outstretched
to wrap around another day begun.
© Copyright ,2008, Tom Kapanka, Patterns of Ink